Direction : Danesh Khambata
Writer : Danesh Khambata
Cast : Chirag Vora, Nivedita Baunthiyal, Abhishek Krishnan, Nishi Doshi and Boman Irani


Deepa Karmalkar

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If I were a rich woman I would buy the premium class ticket worth Rs 5000 to this Broadway styled musical dedicated to Gandhi. Even if I weren't rich enough I would sacrifice my sale-discount shopping to grab a last row seat worth Rs 500 for this spectacle – an ode to Gandhi. This one-crore worth musical bonanza with 16 songs, a dozen choreographed dances, several magnificent backdrops and a cast of 40 dancers makes for any theatre buff's wanting. Even after seven decades after his brutal murder, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi continues to fire the imagination of creative minds.

Stretch your imagination and think – how do you incorporate song and dance routines into the Mahatma's life full of struggles and fasts? The play opens with an energetic welcome song heralding the arrival of Barrister Gandhi in Africa, followed by the British judge and attorney breaks into a jig admonishing him for wearing a turban in court - calling him an unwelcome visitor; then the dance of anguish against the discriminating Asiatic Law; a welcome dance by Tolstoy farm residents as Gandhi is released from custody and many more situational dances, right up to the spectacular finale depicting the transformation of Barrister Gandhi into the Mahatma - the father of the Indian nation, surrounded by pristine white angelic dancers.

The plot of the play is well known to us. It's the mesmerising denouement and treatment that take the viewer by surprise. From his triumphal Dandi march - ''a pinch of salt that shook the foundations of the British empire'', his angst-ridden transformation as the ''half naked Fakir'', the repentant father of his wastrel son Harilal, the mourning father of the nation as Chauri Chaura's Non-cooperation movement turns violent, his witty repartee after the Round Table conference in London – Gandhi's public life has been staged with an endearing creativity.

The dramatic artistry is evident in various instances such as when the young Gandhi missing his family in Durban, is depicted in the form of three dancers essaying emotions of homesickness, or when his guilt-ridden conscience confronts him in the form of bereaved female relatives of the Chauri Chaura victims as well as when the ''half naked Fakir'' stands tall against the palatial tapestry of the round table conference hall.

The technical team of the show shines in all departments – music, majestic props and backdrops. Gandhi's humiliation while being thrown out of the First Class train compartment gets a new dimension with its inside view here. Choreographed by Bertwin Ravi D'Souza, songs by Nariman Khambata and Rahul Pais, vocal arrangements by Dawn Cordo and 3D mapping by Jash Reen and Joshua D'mello deserve a thumping applause, as does the art director. Abhishek Krishnan as the rookie barrister in South Africa and Chirag Vohra as the Mahatma play their roles with dignity and conviction. The little girl who pulls an emotionally shattered Gandhi out of grief following Kasturba's death deserves a special mention for her soothing diction and graceful stage presence. Boman Irani's booming voice symbolizing the British Raj creates the desired stellar impact.

Even if writer-director Danesh Khambata trains the limelight solely on his hero, never sharing it with other leaders and freedom fighters of the era and indulges his hero's pathos involving his failed relationship with son Harilal a little too long – credit is due to him for re-inventing Gandhi in a modern avatar using the technical sorcery at his disposal. Khambata rejuvenates the aura of Gandhi with great efficacy but the irony is that the Mahatma of the masses will remain confined to the plush NCPA theatre and similar venues. It is the pressing need of the hour for the Mahatma's spirit to travel far and wide, not least in his own country.

*Deepa Karmalkar is a film and theatre reviewer. She has been an entertainment journalist for over fifteen years.

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